Fall Deer Hunting 2020

I’ve been down to our container cabin for a week or two.  I came down to try hand trolling for kings, but only got out once and at least figured out how my boat here would fish.  I caught a few rockfish, but no kings.

I had buck fever pretty bad, and finally conceded what I really wanted to do was deer hunt.  In my first three days hunting, I went to two familiar spots and a new spot.  One of the familiar spots involves driving on a logging road uphill a mile and a quarter from the highway, then hiking uphill from there.  The day I went was blowing and raining, as it usually is when I hunt from the road because it’s too crappy to go out in the boat.  I saw a couple yearlings on the road on the way in, then hiked almost up to a knob. It was blowing so hard on the other side of the knob, I didn’t think any deer would be there, so I called on my side of the knob, and didn’t see any deer.  On the way back to the truck, I thought I’d take a short cut down to the logging road and walk it back to the truck.  Big mistake.  I ended up missing the logging road, hiked all the way down to the highway, then three quarters of a mile back to the turn off, then the mile and quarter all the way back up to the truck.  My cork boots are great in the woods but not great on logging roads or the highway edge.  I left my pack at the turnoff, but took my gun in case I saw a deer on the way back up to the truck.  An hour and a half from busting out to the highway, I got to the truck.  Got my exercise in for today.

Two other trips were out of the boat.  I saw one doe at each spot.  The big thing I discovered was all the salal berries.  I picked a gallon bag full at each place, and made about a case of half pints of jam.  The salal berries are slightly sweeter than our southeast blueberries, but don’t come off the bush without a lot of stems and chaff.  All the recipes I’ve seen were for jelly for this reason, I think, plus the skins of the berries are pretty tough.  I like jam, and so just cleaned up the berries pretty good, then put them on the stove, and once they softened, I put them in the food processor, then returned them to the stove and cooked the mash for hours to soften and thicken, and then added sugar to my taste, and canned it and it came out great.  Seems like the berries have a lot of pectin as I didn’t add any and it jelled great.

Temperatures cooled off in mid October with the clear nights. My neighbor got a buck that came to the call 2 miles from the boat, so we hoped that meant the bucks were starting to get interested in does and coming in to the bleat call.  Sara’s sister said she wanted to go hunting, and that’s all I needed to go.   There was frost on the truck windshield the next morning when I started it to hook up the boat trailer. My sister in law arrived soon after, and we drove the 3 miles to the boat launch.

We made our choice of where to hunt based on being able to hunt into the wind and safely anchor the boat.  The boat heater felt good on the 30 minute run.  I had my long johns on for the first time this season.

We decided to split up. She walked down the beach and then upland, and told me to hunt directly up from the boat anchorage.  I got to my first spot to call in about 20 minutes.  I immediately recognized it as the spot I called in three or four deer at the same time last year, one of which I harvested.  I could see the tree below me where I’d dressed that deer.

I took my time in setting up to call as it was a beautiful day and I had at least 4 hours before I needed to be back at the boat.  I figured I’d give this spot a good long look and call.  It was a little open area at the head of a small creek that drained to the beach.  Vision was good but with lots of trees and brush to hide behind before a deer would see me when it came in.

I sloughed my pack and stood behind a tree, chambered a round, and tested sight pictures along the side of the tree for aiming.   I blew the call, and a doe came straight away.  The doe came right over to me, checked me out and tested the air, then wandered off without raising the alarm with a snort.

As I was standing behind this tree on a slope, I realized if a deer came in behind me it would be awkward to try to turn around to shoot.  There was a fallen tree right next to me, and I decided to sit on that.  I blew the call again and waited.  I thought I heard some swooshing of salal behind me.  It stopped, then started again.  Definitely something coming.  I saw the buck coming behind me on the quarter, and I flipped off the safety.  It kept coming and was now at the other end of the fallen tree I was sitting on, and kept coming, nose to the ground.  It went ouf of sight in some branches of the tree at 8 feet then reappeared at 5 ft and I shot it in the neck.

The deer went right down, and I peeked around the end of the log to see that the deer was definitely down and I had not just hit in the antler as I once did before.  I let the deer expire.

I hoped maybe another buck might be in the area, after seeing the doe and this buck come in from different directions.  I let the dust settle for a few minutes, caught my breath, and sat down on the log again.  I blew the call and waited awhile, then blew the call again.

Across the gully, from the same direction the doe had come, I saw some brush move and knew a deer was coming – probably a doe, I thought.  A little closer, I saw more brush move and then I saw the deer.  Bucks seem to have a different gait than does, and this one sure looked like a buck coming in. I stood up by the tree I’d used as my first stand to get a rest, and soon the buck came to the edge of the gully and stopped.  I could see it between two snags between me and the deer, and had a shot, but felt like this deer was not alarmed but just stopping like the first buck did.

After a minute, the deer kept coming and at about 10 yards, came around the snags and I dumped him in the neck.  Both bucks were nice fork horns with eye guards.

I checked the time to see how long I had til our meet up time at 2 pm.  I think it was 1045 am. I punched my tags, then unloaded my knives, saw, survival gear and raingear from my pack.  Time to get to work.

I dressed both deer.  Then I dragged one to a bent over snag  where I could hang it and skin it.  Used to be I could put a stick through the back legs, tie a line in the middle of the stick, throw the line up and over a branch, under the stick, and over the branch again, and hoist the deer up off the ground.  Not so much anymore.

I got the deer about half way off the ground, and that was all I could manage.  I skinned the deer to the ground and got a big game bag under it when I was skinning near the ground and kept the carcass clean.  I removed the hide, head and hocks and put the whole deer in the game bag, then the whole thing in my pack.

I was doing okay on time, but wasn’t sure if I had time to make the multiple trips it would take to get both deer and my gear and gun out today.  Might have to leave a deer and come back tomorrow.  There were no bears on this island, but I still needed to hang the deer up to keep eagles or maybe wolves from scavenging it. I tried hoisting the 2nd deer up.  I’m a slow learner.  This was not gonna happen.  I’m not 40 anymore.  I finally sprawled it on it’s belly so it was off the ground in the brush to cool but did not have the empty rib cage exposed and thought I’d get the first deer down to the boat and then decide what to do.  I covered up my gear and gun with my rain gear to get it on a later trip.

Then it came to me – just cut the deer on the ground in half around the midsection.  This worked great.  I tied a line to the antlers and easily hoisted the front half of the deer from a branch, then ran a line through the back hock and hung the back half next to it.  Now I was in business.

I packed out the first deer and it took about 15 minutes to make it to the beach.  Not bad.  I pulled out the deer in the game bag and set it in under the trees so the eagles couldn’t find it.  Back up the hill.  I took the back half of the second deer, gun, and gear, but of course didn’t go back to the beach just the right way and got a little off track and into some deadfalls.  Soon, though,  I was at the beach again.  Sara’s sister was back at the boat now, and I told her I had one more trip, so she joined me on the last pack out.

We got back up to the front half.  I showed her where I got the two deer, where I sat, and the whole story.  As I worked on removing the head and hocks to get it in the pack back at the hanging tree, she sat down and called to see if she could call in another buck.  She came along after not seeing anything right as I was struggling to get the deer into my pack, and her extra set of hands helped slide it in.  Out we went on the last trip.

She had seen a deer, and had several snort that she didn’t see, but didn’s see a buck.  The tide was still coming in, so we got all the gear near the edge of the water, then I pulled in the line tied to the anchor, we loaded all the gear and the boat floated off shore nicely.  Soon we were on our way.

We talked about the great day on the way home.  She had gathered several shells and some salal berries.

When we got to the boat ramp, we were both stiff – me more so.  I waddled up the ramp to get the truck, and had to stop several times as the quad mucscles in my leg wanted to charley horse.  I was able to keep the muscle from cramping, but it was quite a slog making it the short distance to the truck.

When we got to our place, Sara’s sister helped me hang the deer in the shed, which she and her husband handed down to me from their place several years ago.  We soon had the deer hanging, and she was off to an appointment.  I got out of my wet clothes, took a shower, and hit some fluids.  About an hour later, I recovered enough to remove the hide from the second deer, which was still warm.   Temps are to be in the 30s and 40s the next few days, so I can take my time butchering.   All the sort of pressure I feel to get in venison for the season melted away and now I  took a breath and relaxed.

I got out on one of the next decent days to some land I’m “allowed” to take 2 more deer.  I found a muskeg on Google Earth, and after anchoring the boat, started in for what I thought would be a short hike to the muskeg.  A half hour later after wandering around, I finally came to it.  It was a big muskeg but with lots of bull pine and trees and bushes.  Hopefully, if there were deer around, they’d feel like there was cover to come to the call.  I blew the call, and waited. I saw movement to my right.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  A nice buck was rubbing the top of his head on some cedar branches 30 yards away.  I could only see it’s upper neck and head, but it was a no miss shot.  I got a rest, squeezed off the round, and the buck staggered out into the muskeg.  As I gathered myself to head there and investigate, it staggered back into the woods.  And was gone.  After doing this once before, as mentioned earlier in this story,  I knew what happened. I hit it in the antler or top of head.  It staggered one way then the other like it was drunk.  I never saw it again.  I kicked myself the rest of the day and all the next day for not waiting for the deer to expose itself more.  The deer didn’t even appear to know I was there.  Just stupid on my part.

I eventually went to the other end of the muskeg and called in a single doe, and that’s all the deer I saw for the day.  I realized on my way back that although I’d looked for the deer where the deer exited the muskeg and back into the woods, I hadn’t looked for hair where the deer stood.  It didn’t take long to find a little whisp of hair with a tiny piece of flesh at the base – the kind of hair that’s on the top of the head around the antlers.  I took it to keep for a reminder.   I looked around some more in hopes maybe the deer had layed down with a headache but found no sign of it.  And then I saw the ocean thorugh the trees, and in 5 minutes, I was at the boat.  Well, at least I had a new place to hunt and next time I could come straight to the muskeg without wandering around for half an hour.

I returned the next day to the same place.  Since I sort of knew where I was going, I was able to explore more of the area.  I found a trail cut in the woods – in the middle of nowhere – and wondered what this was.  Then I came to a post with a sign on it that had fallen down that read “Tongass National Forest behind this sign”.   This was the boundary line between the state and federal land. The trail was really nice for hiking and I followed it a ways.  I didn’t see any deer today.

My neighbor and another friend found lots of deer where they went.  My neighbor had already taken 2 deer, and still had the last one to butcher, so he was just along for the ride.  They got a nice 3 point. I got my neighbor’s deer leg bones and ribs from his second deer to make stock, and will get the leg bones from the 3 point when the meat is cut off.  We sure get a lot of stock out of deer bones.

I drove to Coffman Cove the next day to meet a boat that had brought school kids from Wrangell for some kind of activity.  I sent some deer meat and bone stock to Bob and Christina in Wrangell and Paul in Petersburg.  I thought I was early but I was almost late.  The captain was untying the boat as I drove in, and I handed off the two totes of meat.  Sure is nice having Breakaway Charters out of Wrangell working the waters between Juneau and Ketchikan for moving small pieces of freight here and there.  The owner Eric is an all around nice person to work with and returns your call when you want to get freight somewhere in his routing.

The boat was back to Wrangell early and Bob and Chris were not answering their phones as they probably expected the boat to arrive later in the day.  The captain called me.  I told him just to leave it on the dock.  It’s Wrangell.  He knew and I knew no one would mess with it.  I’d secured the lid and the meat was frozen, so I didn’t suspect any critter would mess with it.  Eventually, they got the message and found their deer meat on the dock and called all excited that it looked so good.

The meat for Paul was to go the next day and be at Banana Point at the end of the ~20 mile road from Petersburg at about 7 am.  Dick, Paul’s close friend, said he’d go pick it up as Paul doesn’t see too good at night anymore with his almost 90 year old eyes.  I used some 2 inch hard foam insulation pieces I stored in the shed rafters to line the plastic tote just in case the tote got delayed.  I’m glad I did.

I was out at the gun range with my neighbor first thing Saturday morning, and forgot all about the tote til I got home about 10 am.   I tried calling Paul to check on his tote, and no answer.   I’d heard the previous evening that there was a big earthquake in Turkey where Paul’s daughter and son in law live, so I was a little worried about that.  I emailed them in Turkey and soon found out they were fine.  So that wasn’t what was keeping Paul.

I tried Paul again in the early afternoon and Paul answered out of breath but so happy.  The charter was delayed from Petersburg, and the message Dick thought he got was that it would arrive on Sunday at 1 pm.  But it was for 1 pm Saturday.  So there was no one to pick up the meat.  The captain asked the passengers if anyone knew Paul.  The mayor of Petersburg was on board and said he would get it to him.  I had put Paul’s number on the tote, it eventually got to him and Dick didn’t even have to run out and get it.  Paul said it was frozen solid in the insulation.  Another happy ending among neighbors of our small Southeast Alaska towns.   And friends are so appreciative to get venison.

Big storm is here now so no hunting for several days.  It’s now blowing 50 kts and raining barrels.   I realized today when I go to dinner at other people’s homes and they ask me what I did all day, I often can’t think of anything I did.  Even though I know I did stuff.  So today I thought I better try to put it to memory.  I got up this morning and packaged the cooled broth I made from my neighbor’s deer leg bones over the last few days, and took some to them to try.  Then, I started a deer dish in the electric fry pan. While a package of deer stew meat defrosted in the microwave, I chopped up some red onions and baby carrots. I chunked the deer meat, put it in a ziploc bag, and added various spices and liquids from the cupboard to marinade.  While that was working, I made a salad.  I opened a pint of kelp rhubarb salsa I made in June, added it to brown rice I’d cooked with bone broth yesterday, flavored it with olive oils and vinegars until it tasted good, then put it in the fridge to take with me for tonight’s dinner at my inlaws.  I browned the marinated meat in the electric fry pan, added the onions and carrots, then added bone broth and set the stew to simmer.  Then I started in to make banana bread from the bag of ripe bananas I scored at the store yesterday.  Luckily I had bought butter too, and so had everything I needed.  I made two loafs and if it looks good, I’ll take some for dessert tonight, too.   Well, that’s a pretty good days worth of stuff to remember, along with the Bills forgetting they weren’t the Bills for a short time and actually beating the Patriots.

I’m not so enamored with the amount of attention I pay to today’s technology, but one thing I do appreciate is the invention of satellite radio.  I love to hear the local commercials during the Buffalo Bills games spoken by the local broadcasters in their western New York twang and think of home and wonder what people are doing back there.    Today is November 1.  Hunting should be good when this storm clears.

Got out today on Friday Nov 6.  I hunted a few days ago up a new spot and had a great day.  Saw a few doe and learned a new area. Today I was headed to a place I think I hunted – at least in the general area anyway – years ago with the Bue Brothers.  I left right a sunup.  I can only hunt specific places now and so wanted to be the first boat to the spot.  We are hunting in wilderness, but it’s also the back yard to a few thousand people here on the island.   As I cruised to the spot, I passed may – a few dozen maybe – humpback whales.  I wasn’t sure if they were group feeding in the area or headed for their wintering grounds in Hawaii.

I cruised some of the beaches on my way there as it was low tide.  When I neared the place I was going, I saw another boat on the outside of some of the islands I was cruising on the inside of.  I picked up speed and headed to the spot I planned to hunt.  If I didn’t make it there first, I wouldn’t hunt on top of them and only had one little spot I could otherwise hunt in the area.

It was kind of hairy getting into the little bay where I would anchor.  The marine chart showed blue, which is shallow, but didn’t show just how shallow.  Just as I was about to enter the bay and deep water, I scraped something.  I thought the skeg touched but when I looked at it later I didn’t see anything so maybe it was a log or something.

I got to my spot, pushed the skiff out, and when it was in deep enough water, pulled on the line tied to the anchor that was hanging off the bow, and the anchor splashed to the bottom.  I tied of the anchor shore line to a snag above the high tide line, and headed inland.  The boat that was going my same direction as me earlier came in sometime later.  I could hear it putt put along the shore looking for a deer on the beach, but never heard it stop to hunt inland, so I figured I had the bay to myself.

The first muskeg was not far from the beach.  It looked so good I called there for at least half an hour.  No deer.  When I walked uphill through the muskeg I realized there wasn’t much cover around the muskeg so next time I’ll just give it one or two series of calls and move inland. The next muskeg was more of the same.  No deer and not much cover.  The scouting report was building.

I worked my way uphill across a tiny creek and kept moving until I found a spot that I thought had some cover.  I got to a little gully that was a little more open than the spot I got the first two deer on a different island earlier in the season.  I duffed my pack, and put a round in the chamber of nephew John’s youth model .243. The scope on my gun had fogged on the previous hunt, so I had removed it and sent it in for repair.  I took John’s gun out to a makeshift shooting range and sighted it in on a crappy day I couldn’t hunt, and that’s what I had now.

I blew on the call, and thought I heard movement to my left.  Then I see a deer coming right to me in the open to my right.  I thought it was a buck, then wasn’t sure as I’ve made doe into bucks before.  As it got closer, I could see it’s fork horn rack.  It stopped at a little bullpine tree and was locked in on me peeking around the tree I was behind an a little knoll above him.  The buck didn’t look spooked or worried, so instead of being a dumb ass and trying a bad shot, I simply tweeted on the call softly, and on he came. He stopped below me at maybe 20 yards.  When I came out from behind the tree to get a rest along its side, the deer didn’t panic or move.  I put the cross hairs on his neck, and down he went.

I let him expire fully, and blew the call again for another 10 minutes in hopes another buck was in the area.  I was about half mile from the beach, and so not out of the question to pack two deer out.

No more deer came in, and I went down to the buck – a nice fork horn with eye guards.  I dressed the deer where it lay.   After the first two deer in October, I replaced the line in my back with some thicker rope and was able to hoist the deer up a tree with the rope tied a stick through the hind legs.  I took off the hide, head and hocks, and then lowered the whole deer into my pack that I’d lined with a huge game bag I sewed from sheets.  I collected everything else that was in the pack and stuffed it whereever I could in the side pouches of the pack.  I lifted the full pack on a stump about 5 feet high, threaded one arm and then the other into the shoulder straps, buckled in the waist and breast straps, shouldered my gun, hung my computer tablet holder over my neck so it hung at my chest, and started for the beach.  I carry the tablet that has an incredible app called On X Hunt, which showed me where I was and the track I had taken in, all overlain on a Google Earth map.   I would keep track of my return to the beach so I would come out at the boat and not wander off course.

It took about 40 minutes to get to the beach, and not a bad hike at all.  It was a blue bird day, I had plenty of time, so was not in a hurry and enjoyed the hike out.  I blew the call a few times on the way back when I got close to the beach to see if I could luck out with another deer, but I didn’t see one.  The going was pretty easy to the beach.  The boat was floating offshore, right where I left it.  I pulled in the anchor with the shore line, and when the boat beached, I backed up to it, lifted the pack over the side, and sqirmed out of the shoulder straps and let the pack fall into the boat.  I then coiled the shoreline into a bucket, and put the bucket and anchor aboard.  I put in the ditch bag with spare clothes and sat phone next, and lasly carefully placed the gun aboard on the pile.  I moved the boat offshore til it was floating, then threw my leg over the side and pulled myself in.  As I was doing so, I saw another boat that looked like it had come into the harbor to cruise the beaches and was leaving.  I noted that it was leaving by a different way than I had come in, so I left the bay on their course, and made sure to make a track on the boat plotter for next time. There were humpback whales stacked up in the channel on the way home, with blows in 270 degrees of my view.

When I got home, I tied the game bag to a rope over the roof joist in the shed, hoisted up the bag and pack, and then pulled the pack away from the bag.  I then got to sorting all my gear back to where it belonged in the pack.  I rinsed the liver and heart, and then put them in some cold water with salt over night.

Nov 7 was a doubly good day.  I volunteered to help seed the kelp farm with Markos Sheer and his crew.  It was windy and a little lumpy about half the day, then the wind laid down and it wasn’t too cold the rest of the day.  We worked to dark.  I was in the skiff stretching the 600 foot seed line from side to side on the kelp farm.  Another skiff added buoys and anchors to the seed line as we set it.  On my way home I heard Biden giving his acceptance speech and then end to the closest thing to a tyrant leader of the US in my lifetime.  Although nearly half of my countrymen and women voted for the tyrant, it renewed my faith in people that enough voted for an imperfect, middle of the road politician in the end.  We well have to be on guard for Biden and his foreign policies, as he took the senate arm in arm with President Bush into Iraq as a senator, and with President Obama as vice president with the surge into Afghanistan.

On Nov 8 I shipped all my deer and bone stock up to Sara so I could make room for another deer or 2 from my tags plus deer for Charlie’s deer when he came down.

Nov 10. I dropped Howie off at his spot on my way to the bay I got the 3rd deer. He saw 11 deer including many bucks he didn’t harvest.  I saw 2 doe where I went.   As I descended to the beach, I heard honkers start to honk nervously.  A couple dozen were on the beach where I came out, and the bay as iced over. Eventually they took flight, likely to open water elsewhere.

Charlie called that evening and said he wasn’t coming.  Didn’t want to travel with all the covid, blah blah blah.  Turns out I didn’t need more room in the freezer.  So I looked at the forecast.  Tomorrow was 30 kt winds and rain.  The day after that it was SW 15, so I booked my airfare back to Juneau.  Sara has had to deal with snow removal, etc by her lonesome, and she’s the one with the job.  And Keith has had to manage the scout troop without me for a month.

I spent the 11th putting things in order at the container.  I did laundry by hand in the shower, and hung it to dry by the heat pump.  Then I put the the vacuum packed deer portions into two duffel bags, and put the two bags back into the freezer.

Next morning, I shut the swinging doors on the container, and jumped in Howie’s truck with my deer bags for the airport.  We stopped at Black Bear store for coffee, and as I was pouring coffee, I remembered – $5 minimum charge for the credit card!  I looked around and saw Halloween candy – including some trail mix on sale.  2 for 1!  When the clerk rung me up she said “those are 3 for 1”.  My lucky day.  Although store prices here may be a little more than Juneau overall, I find there are many times sales with prices I’d never see in Juneau.

After check in at the airport.  Everyone’s phones started alarming.  The governor had a message that covid was getting worse and we needed to hunker down again.  Sara had already left for Anchorage on the morning plane so not sure if she’ll come right back or they’ll continue with their political meetings there somehow.  Either way, it’s definitely time to go home.

I arrived at the airport and delivered deer liver to Izzy, our mechanic who we’ve been giving liver to for 20 years.  Then headed home. I called my barber and she said to come over in 20 minutes.    The driveway was a skating rink.  I had to back out of the lower driveway until I was on the road pavement, and with a running start, I made it up to the garage. I hauled the deer up to the send floor of the garage and put it in the freezers.  Halfway down the staircase I slipped and went the rest of the way down the steps on my butt.  That hurt, but didn’t seem like I broke anything.  I headed over my haircut, which took about 10 minutes total, and then back to the house.  Time to put the studs on the cars. I did my car first and then Sara’s and by the time I got into the easy chair by the stove, I had a nice lump on my ass where I’d fallen.  It’s good to be home.  And still got buck fever, so ready to go hunting here.

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